What is your name and your current occupation?
Justin Hall / Animator
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
It was actually between animation jobs, but I spent a while as a bike courier (that’s on a bicycle, not a motorbike!). It’s an awesome job – outdoors, keeps you fit, get to fight with buses – just not really a career.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
With only a few exceptions, all my projects have been great and well received by the final audiences. Tiny Planets (Sesame Workshops) and OOglies (BBC) were great fun to work on and were loved by the kids (and college students) that saw them. Obviously getting the Oscar nomination for The Illusionist this year was nice. But the best project I have ever been involved with – and it wasn’t even as an animator, I was the Assistant Editor – was Brit Indie, MONSTERS. We broke all the rules of film-making and came out with an awesome movie. Just a pity it didn’t get the push it needed in the States. If you haven’t seen it, take the time to check it out.
How did you become interested in animation?
Not entirely sure to be honest, it just seemed to happen.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in the US but grew up in the UK. Now I’m living in Dallas. Straight out of high school I joined the Army but got injured in training. I needed to find something new to focus on. I heard that they were going to make the Star Wars prequels and, being a Star Wars Kid with a more than passing interest in art decided to do what I needed to to get into SFX and work on Star Wars. By the time I was finished my degree, however, I had become more interested in character animation and never did work on any of the Star Wars prequels.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Sitting in front of my computer making things move – hopefully convincingly – for hours, punctuated by regular cups of tea and occasionally getting some time to play with my son and, if I’m lucky, spending some time with my wife.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Working from home. I get to spread my hours out to make space for playtime with my son.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Working from home. I hate working on my own with no creative interaction.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Instability and uncertainty. I freelance for the most part so there are always frightening times when a job is ending and there might not be another one in sight.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
I do everything on a quad-core HP laptop. I use my (Windows Mobile) phone occasionally, though Skype is much more common. I try to avoid contact with Apple products as much as possible.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I had a drink or two with Dick Williams when he dropped by the Django studios during production of The Illusionist. I also had the privilege of working with some great animators on that film but unless you’ve worked with them yourself their names probably won’t mean much.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can move my eyes independently.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Learn to animate! And I don’t mean, learn to use Maya or MAX or Flash or whatever piece of software you think is necessary. I mean pick up a pencil and some paper, grab some play-dough or plasticine, take a scalpel to some old film. The computer will never do your job for you, it is just a tool and a fairly blunt one at that. Learn how things move, how people and animals move, how things interact. Observe, sketch, video, photograph, draw, draw, draw, draw, and then draw some more, especially life drawing. It is a sad fact that more and more schools are dropping life drawing classes and spending too much time focusing on computer software. You need to understand and feel animation on a fundamental level, it is art not science. There are plenty of resources, in particular; Richard Williams: The Animator’s Survival Kit, Preston Blair: Cartoon Animation, Disney’s The Illusion of Life and Edweard Muybridge’s movement studies to name but a few.